Wednesday, July 30th, 2003

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
Quantifying the Effort
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Onn July 20th I watched as two PAWS Bird Nursery Caretaker volunteers simultaneously opened two transport carriers on private land in Carnation. The boxes were situated on the edge of a large, mowed yard bordered by about 20 acres of mixed forest. As the two boxes were opened, four feathery streaks emerged from each of them. Some of the streaks disappeared quickly into the forest, while others slowed to a stop on nearby tree branches at which point they became recognizable as juvenile American Robins. Eight young voices filled the forest as the newly released birds chattered excitedly back and forth to one another. The volunteers, the landowner, and I watched and listened for several minutes as the robins communicated with each other and assessed the meaning of their sudden change in circumstances. While the robins slowly dispersed, we moved to a different location to introduce another batch of young birds to a life of freedom.

Another carrier was opened and seven small birdlike streaks issued forth. All of them disappeared immediately into nearby cover, their small brown bodies blending perfectly with the shadows among the foliage. It seemed that these House Finches were much shyer than the robins, and not so much as a peep could be heard from the bushes into which they had disappeared. I had no doubt that they would be more

Bewick's Wren

A juvenile Bewick’s Wren inspects his new home at his release on July 23rd.

visible in the days to come, as they became aware of the many bird feeders in the neighborhood. For now, however, they chose to assess their newfound freedom silently, and from the security of thick vegetation. I and the rest of the release party moved out of the yard and into the forest carrying the last two boxes that were to be opened that day.

We stopped in the middle of a thick patch of ferns that was surrounded by abundant huckleberry, salmonberry, vine maple and other dense, low cover. One of the remaining boxes was opened and a juvenile Spotted Towhee jumped out and landed on a nearby twig. He scanned the area quickly, and then flew deeper into the surrounding shrubbery. I could just make him out through the thick layer of vegetation that separated us as he looked all about and twittered with excitement. He tentatively called a few times before he disappeared from sight entirely. After the towhee disappeared, the final box was opened nearby and a juvenile Steller’s Jay exited as quickly as he could. He flew a short distance away and landed on a leafy branch where he was mostly hidden from our view. We left him to take in his new home in peace.

With the exception of the jay which had arrived at PAWS as an injured fledgling, all of the birds that were released on July 20th had been raised at the PAWS wildlife center. Although nestling songbirds are some of our smallest patients, they require an enormous amount of time and effort to raise to the point at which they can fend for themselves. A dedicated team of 40 to 50 volunteers known as Bird Nursery Caretakers (BNC’s) feed and care for young songbirds as they grow and develop at the center. Volunteer Wildlife Care Assistants, interns, and PAWS staff also assist with care and feeding as needed. In order to give you a general idea of the amount of work that is involved in caring for orphaned songbirds, I have attempted to quantify several different aspects of care for the 17 birds released on July 20th. Some of the resulting numbers were surprising even to me.

Before their care began, each of the 17 birds first had to be admitted to the center. During admission, information was taken from each bird’s finder and entered into the PAWS database. After their information was recorded, each bird received a full physical exam. During this exam, which is performed by a wildlife rehabilitator, the birds were weighed, assessed for body condition and hydration, examined for injuries, banded, given fluids, and routed to the appropriate cages in the center. Assuming (conservatively) that each admission and exam took 20 minutes, that means that about 5.7 hours were spent just getting these birds into care.

Once under care, 16 of the birds spent between 24 and 43 days at PAWS, the average being 33 days in care. The jay, suffering from head trauma, arrived as an older juvenile. He did not require hand feeding and was ready for release 7 days after being admitted.

Tree swallow

His image blurred by rapid movement, a swallow breaks for freedom at his release on July 26th.

The other 16 birds had all arrived as nestlings that were orphaned (or in some cases possibly kidnapped) due to a variety of human causes. They required hand feeding for much of the time that they were at the center. Baby birds are fed every half hour between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm for a total of 24 feedings per day. Assuming that all 16 of the birds were self-feeding during the week before their release, this means that they were hand fed (on average) for 26 days. 16 birds X 24 feedings per day X 26 days = 9984 feedings! Even if each feeding took only one minute, that is over 166 hours spent feeding these 16 hungry mouths.

The figures in the preceding paragraphs represent only two aspects of care for the 17 birds that were released on July 20th. Other requirements such as treatment of injuries, administering medications, daily cage cleaning, food preparation, checkups, and movement of the birds to new cages are much harder to quantify. Suffice it to say, we can safely tack on several dozen more hours to the total without fear of exaggerating the amount of care that the birds received. The amazing thing is, this huge amount of work accounts for only 17 individual songbirds, and PAWS receives HUNDREDS of baby songbirds every summer. By late September when the last of the season’s young songbirds have been released, several thousand hours worth of effort has been dedicated to overall songbird care.

There are four additional items that I can quantify in reference to the 17 released songbirds. It took me 45 minutes to catch the birds for release and remove their in-house bands. It took me about 40 minutes to drive the birds to their release site. It took about 3 seconds for each of the birds to leave their transport carriers and return to the wild. Finally, it took about 27 hours from the time the birds were released for 17 more songbirds to arrive at PAWS to take their place...

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Wildlife Release tally: July 9th to July 22nd, 2003

1 Hooded Merganser
2 Wood Ducks
11 Mallards
2 Band-tailed Pigeons
4 Rock Doves
19 Virginia Opossums
1 Townsend's Chipmunk
4 Eastern Cottontails
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl
3 Northern Flickers
3 California Quail
8 Eastern Gray Squirrels
4 American Crows
8 American Robins
4 English House Sparrows
7 House Finches
1 Spotted Towhee
1 Steller's Jay
1 Bushtit

Wildlife Release tally: 2003
586 animals

All rights reserved. 2003 Progressive Animal Welfare Society